My cousin Patsy, who grew up in Charlotte but now lives in Pawleys Island, SC, recently sent Judy and me a box of Mrs. Hanes’ handmade Moravian cookies, a sweet gift if ever there was one. . Patsy is a lovely person.
The Moravian Ginger Cookies, slightly thicker than a playing card, are “rolled, cut and wrapped by hand” and are made in Clemmons, near Winston-Salem.
I wondered how thin they were. I misplaced my micrometer decades ago, so I decided to measure the thickness of Mrs. Hanes cookies another way. I pulled out a ruler, edged it, then stacked the cookies until they reached the one-inch mark. It took 10 cookies, so I think each cookie is about a tenth of an inch thick. I’ll leave you metric system fans to worry about how many millimeters that would be.
There are several other companies that make Moravian cookies, but this is the brand Cousin Patsy sent me.
If their cookies had been the Moravians’ only contribution to North Carolina, in my opinion, that alone would have been enough to put them into the history books.
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I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again: food and its preparation is a legitimate and tasty field of historical study. Immigrants brought with them not only their clothing and tools to the New World, but also intangibles such as ideas on how to build shelters, farming and herding methods, stories, folklore , concepts of good and evil, etc.
Back to the story. Where, you will ask, is Moravia? Moravia was a province of Czechoslovakia next to Germany. The Moravians became Protestant in 1457 before Reverend Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. They called themselves the Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brothers) and when they were persecuted many of them fled to Germany (voted with their feet).
Later many of them came to America and settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, from where groups traveled down the so-called Great Wagon Road in the 1740s to the foothills of North Carolina, many settling around present-day Rowan County, including Iredell County. was part of it until 1788.
Fortunately, we have good records on these people held at the Salem Moravian Archives in Salem, North Carolina. Among the archives is the diary of Anna Catharina (Antes) Ernst (1726-1816), written in German in 1803, of her six-week journey through the North Carolina hinterland and the development of the Moravian communities of Bethabra (settled in 1753), Bethania (settled in 1759) then Salem, which Adelaide Fries, “the greatest specialist in the history and genealogy of the Moravians of the southern United States”, translated and rewrote in form of history.
The Moravians and other German-speaking groups were not the only Europeans to arrive in New England or one of the middle colonies to head south. Many Scots-Irish, predominantly Presbyterian in religion, also made the journey. The Germans (also known as Pennsylvania Dutch) and Scots-Irish (also known as Ulster Scots) were not antagonistic towards each other, but were somewhat clannish and tended to settle near people like them.
“The Great Wagon Road” (TGWR), the main route south, had a road in name only. Little more than an expanded trail, it started in Philadelphia – a major mid-Atlantic port – and ended in northern Georgia. This was the route taken by many of our ancestors in North Carolina. If you remember your Tar Heel geography, you might remember that outside of Wilmington, our state has no good deep-water ports.
From Philadelphia, TGWR went west to York, Pennsylvania, then south to Winchester, Virginia, paralleling Appalachia to Staunton, Virginia, thence to Roanoke, Virginia, then North Carolina, roughly the route of NC Highway 29, continues onward to Winston-Salem, then Salisbury and thence to Charlotte and so on into South Carolina, ending in Augusta, Georgia. Some authorities consider TGWR to be the first highway in our country. There should be historic road markers posted on this historic road.
The Moravians were heading towards what was called the Wachovia Tract, nearly 100,000 acres in present-day County Forsyth, which had been purchased by the Unitas Fratrum from Lord Granville, one of the “eight lord proprietors” of the Carolinas. Lord Granville had been granted huge estates by England’s King Charles II for supporting his claims to the English throne – his father, you may recall, had been beheaded by Cromwell.
The town of Winston-Salem and the town of Bethania are located in what was the Wachovia Tract. Historic Bethania has an excellent visitor center and museum, providing historical information and interpretation.
Salem began in 1766 and merged with the nearby town of Winston in 1913. If you haven’t already, you should take a walking tour of Old Salem.
Many early European settlers in Iredell County, or children of early European settlers who remained in Pennsylvania, detoured to the right (west) of TGWR between Salisbury and Charlotte and settled near a stream west of Salisbury, the county seat of Rowan.
Clever people that they were, the newcomers numbered the creeks as they marched west: First Creek, Second Creek, Third Creek, and so on. but is better known now as Statesville, North Carolina, after being chartered by the General Assembly.
The basis of this column is “The Road to Salem”, by Adelaide L. Fries (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1944). If your ancestors – like some of mine – descended on the Great Wagon Road, Dr. Fries’ book will help you better appreciate what your ancestors went through. The book is now available in hard copy.
For the sweeter side of the story, you can contact Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies company in Clemmons through their website at HanesCookies.com. You can even visit their bakery; I foresee. Call 336-764-1402 for details and times.
You’ll be glad you did.
OC Stonestreet is the author of “Tales From Old Iredell County”, “They Called Iredell County Home”, and “Once Upon a Time… in Mooresville, NC”.